Viva La Vulva: Can Bodyform Break the Taboo?

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

A coin purse, a conch shell, a papaya and a fortune cookie. What do these things have in common? Well, they all look quite a bit like vulvas.



Viva La Vulva is Bodyform’s latest campaign (the first ever to use the word ‘vulva’) and it aims to banish the stigma surrounding vulvas by re-casting them as an all-singing, all-dancing body part worthy of celebration.


Praise has been heaped on Bodyform for this ad; it’s a bold and ground-breaking piece of body-positive work, centering a body-part often only spoken of in hushed tones (if at all). It comes after research conducted by the brand found that:

  • 73% of women don’t technically know what their vulva is, muddling the terminology of female genitalia

  • 42% of women have felt embarrassed about their vulva (increasing to a shocking 63% of 18-24 year olds)

  • 61% believe society puts a pressure on women to ensure their vulva looks a certain way

These are sobering stats and illustrate why the Viva La Vulva treatment was deemed necessary. Purpose driven brand strategy is oh, so 2019 and Bodyform have jumped firmly on the bandwagon. But is their ad actually effective? Or is the execution all talking-vulvas and no substance?


To answer these questions and more, we analysed the advert on the SoundOut platform, basing our conclusions on consumer-based facts. 200 women from our panel of over 2.5 million reviewed the content and answered questions that enabled us to rate the ad on three key dimensions:


  • Impact– how effectively does the advert get and hold attention?

  • Character – what character impression does the content make? This is reported as one of 12 standard archetypes.

  • Effectiveness – does it get people to do what you want the to do, i.e. buy the product?


Impact



This is a three-minute-long video of animated, lip syncing, vagina metaphors. Naturally, it’s attention-grabbing content. Primarily because it made reviewers so uncomfortable.

The transformation of everyday items into singing vulvas could be criticised for dipping a touch too far into the uncanny valley. One look at the erratic Engagement graph above paints a clear picture. This graph shows you the average engagement of the reviewers during each second of the commercial. It’s clear that reviewers don’t quite know what to do with themselves. Ratings don’t rise above 5/10 until halfway through the advert, presumably once viewers have had a chance to acclimatise to the onslaught. Even then, the ratings never reach convincing heights. While this certainly isn’t boring content; reviewers are actively engaged after all, they haven’t actively enjoyed it. With an overall effectiveness score of 59%, we wouldn’t categorise this as a win for Bodyform.



Character



For a purpose driven ad like Viva La Vulva to be effective, it’s essential that the content is ‘on-brand’. Worryingly, our analysis shows that Viva La Vulva is markedly out of sync with consumer perception of the Bodyform brand.


Consumers perceive the Bodyform brand as focused and precise, with an ethos of accomplishment and a desire for strength. Of 12 standard character archetypes, these characteristics are associated with a Hero or Ruler (illustrated above) and indicate how much women trust Bodyform’s products. They are functional, reliable and effective. They do a job and they do it well.


In contrast, the Viva La Vulva video content leaves an impression of community, respect and compassion. Instead of a Hero or Ruler, these characteristics are associated with a Caregiver or Mentor. The perception of Bodyform as an authority is lost in a sea of empty cause marketing.


By deviating from their brand character, Bodyform chip away at the well-established image of accomplishment and strength which persuades women to buy their products.


Benchmarking



Viva La Vulva’s failure to promote the product is to blame for the out of sync character impressions, as well as a lacklustre overall benchmark score of 31%. This sinks to a distinctly ineffective 24% and 26% for 25-34 and 35-44-year-old women respectively. Of all the adverts that have been testing on the SoundOut platform, Viva la Vulva exists in the lower third.


You may not have noticed, but the campaign is intended to launch a new range of ‘PureSensitive’ intimate care products. These products don’t make an appearance until right at the end of the ad. Even then, it’s a short glimpse – not long enough to understand what the new range is, what it does or what it’s for. This remains a secondary concern to the campaign’s overarching message and this approach is at odds with what Bodyform are known for: the integrity of their products.


This tension is mirrored in our semantic analysis; from 200 written reviews, two of the most commonly mentioned words were ‘message’ and ‘product’. When we dig deeper into the sentiment around these words, we can see that a majority of mentions of the ‘message’ are incredibly positive, while only 17% of ‘product’ mentions were. Have a look at some of the reviews:


I feel most women would rather be informed about the products more instead of being bombarded by images of talking vulvas in all sorts of disguises.

“Not specific enough in what the product was, only praising what lady were born with, the final answer came right at the very end, not a very good advert as it was getting quite frustrating.”


“The message behind the ad is positive but the imagery sort of takes away from it. This is due to the fact the [product] comes right at the end and I would have turned it off before then, missing what the ad was about.”


“I would prefer it if Bodyform spent their time and money perfecting a product”


The positive reaction to the advert’s ‘message’ is to be expected. With only 25% of women being able to correctly identify the vulva and nearly half having felt embarrassed it, Bodyform are clearly addressing a meaningful issue. Viva La Vulva works to upend the myths, insecurities and stereotypes responsible for these stats. This is a taboo topic, with real implications for women’s wellbeing; from unnecessary plastic surgery, to avoidance of life saving smear tests. Considering “vaginas and vulvas are at the very heart” of what they do, Bodyform are also well placed to connect to this issue. But simply ‘raising awareness’ doesn’t cut it when creating genuinely effective, purpose driven brand content. So, other than raising awareness, what is Bodyform doing to tackle the issue?


Well, they launched the aforementioned PureSensitive range. Which Bodyform’s website describes as “a range of daily intimate care products that work in harmony with your body, and the ways you choose to stay clean.” But the advert left most reviewers confused about what the range is. If the main aim of an ad is to sell a product, then Bodyform have failed. It usually helps to know what the product is before feeling compelled to purchase it. Furthermore, the very existence of this range does undermine Bodyform’s declaration that “there’s only one perfect vulva” (Spoiler: it’s yours).


To stay on-brand, avoid confusion and deliver sustained consumer loyalty, Bodyform should have remained consistent and worked within their Hero/Ruler character, instead of pivoting towards a Caregiver/Mentor role. An on-brand execution would have centred the PureSensitive range and emphasised the product’s indisputable value. An even better direction? Collaborating with a charity. Perhaps a cervical cancer charity tackling fears over smear tests. With 80% of women embarrassed about the prospect of a smear test, this is the most serious implication of the taboo culture. Bodyform have missed an opportunity to do something tangible (and purposeful).


Viva La Vulva promotes a meaningful message with an impressively elaborate execution, but for real consumers? It’s just not effective. Aligning with a meaningful (and buzzworthy) cause without actually investing anything is too easy. Consumers should be wary of a brand that only appears to be addressing these issues on a surface level, when in reality it’s not doing anything of impact. Bodyform should have spent less time and money bringing vulva doppelgangers to life and more connecting with women in a way that aligns with their brand and makes a real difference.


You can view the full SoundOut results HERE

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